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As world worries over Ukraine, Western New Yorkers collect cash to aid invasion victims

Participants hold up their flags and signs during a pro-Ukraine rally in Niagara Square, Tuesday, March 1
Michael Mroziak
Participants hold up their flags and signs during a pro-Ukraine rally in Niagara Square, Tuesday, March 1

As sympathy grows for Ukraine and its people, so too are donations to related humanitarian effort, including some in Western New York.

The Ukrainian Federal Credit Union, housed within the Dnipro Ukrainian Cultural Center on Genesee Street in Buffalo, hosts a fund which supports people affected by the Russian invasion, including wounded fighters and refugees:

“It’s tax deductible. UAFF (Ukrainian American Freedom Foundation) is the foundation. Our bank account is in the credit union and the credit union wire transfers will be free to Ukraine,” said Dianna Derhak, a local artist and activist who lived in Ukraine for 14 years. “But we are also looking to have other channels as well. We're buying supplies directly and then having someone from Ukraine pick them up.”

Derhak says they’ve been able to send more than 30 tons of medical supplies since 2014, when Russian and pro-Russian forces began their occupation of Crimea and parts of the Donbas region. The Dnipro will further boost its fundraising by the sale of Ukrainian foods every Friday at the center.

Friday afternoon inside the Student Union on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus, students will be selling small items to raise cash to send abroad.

“I made all these bracelets yesterday and am planning to make many, many more. We’ll just sell them for you know, two or four dollars, just to raise some money,” said Anastasiya Bigun, secretary for UB’s Friends of Ukraine Club. “There's so many things in Ukraine that need our financial support. There are all the orphans, or the animals have been left behind. People need simple hygiene products.”

Bigun’s father and sisters are in Ukraine. Her sisters are volunteering for various efforts, while her father, who is enlisted, is patrolling their local village. She displayed some of her bracelets during a rally Tuesday afternoon in Niagara Square. They carry a sharp, to-the-point message: “F--- Putin.”

Others are making personal missions to Europe to support refugees who have relocated out of Ukraine. Vitaliy Aponchuk, a native of Ukraine and co-owner of AVA Roofing in Tonawanda, will travel to Poland next week bringing resources to help those directly affected by the violence.

His brother and business partner, Anatoliy Aponchuk, says they have a sister who still lives in Ukraine with her family. They are living away from the trouble spots and for now, he explained, are doing OK. In the meantime, they’re touched by the support they’ve received.

“We noticed that a lot of our customers actually reached out and offered help. So when my brother goes there, he's actually bringing some money donations to help the refugees,” Anatoliy said. “Just seeing support, it's pretty comforting in knowing that the people out there are willing to help out.”

Aponchuk added that while their customers may be familiar with their Ukrainian roots, they are not seeking to exploit that.

Anatoliy told WBFO his church was taking donations, and he prefers giving directly to a familiar source, rather than donating online.

“Personally, I don't trust the online. It doesn't matter who owns it. I don’t like the online donation because, especially if you don't have the direct connection or relation to the person,” he said. “So my recommendation is you could do it direct, whether to a church or organization that can pass on those funds to the cause.”

Bigun warns those who do consider online donations to be very cautious.

“The first thing is that people have to check the validity of links, because Russia has really so many fake ones that have the same names in them as the Ukrainian link,” she said. “You just have to watch out for that and try to reach out to people, directly Ukrainians, and they will direct you to the links.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.